It wasn’t much of a stretch for Peter Carver, director of The Diviners, to understand the motivations of one of the show’s main characters. Like C.C. Showers, the wandering preacher whose arrival in the small town of Zion, Ind. sets the play’s plot in motion, Carver has lately been doing some roving of his own.
The A-B Tech Drama Club, which Carver oversees in his role as adjunct instructor of drama, hasn’t had a permanent home since its founding in 2003. Vestigial props and sets from the troupe’s first show, ranging from a complete 1950s kitchen to uncut lumber, are stashed in the school’s electronics department.
While there isn’t a constituency on campus that couldn’t use more space, Carver says his students feel especially encumbered by having to perform great dramatic works in chalkboard-lined classrooms and acoustically unfriendly lecture halls.
“The drama program is growing, and we need somewhere to go,” he declares. Carver chose to produce The Diviners partly because its “nebulous setting” meant it could be staged almost anywhere.
“I thought I might be putting it on in the small-engine-repair shop,” the director jokes.
But after a few strolls across campus, Carver found that even the least desirable spots were spoken for. “I couldn’t find anywhere to put on a play,” he says. It was only after he expanded his orbit that he stumbled into the W.C. Reid Center, located on Livingston Street just beyond A-B Tech’s boundaries. Soon after his first visit, center director LaVone Griffin invited Carver’s group to set up shop.
“He’s a theater man himself,” Carver says of Griffin, who moved to Asheville this year. “He’s digging the collaboration. The center has really welcomed us, like the Layman family welcomes the preacher in The Diviners.”
Griffin — who holds a graduate degree in theater arts and credits his high-school drama program with stabilizing him as an uncertain youth — believes both A-B Tech and the Reid Center stand to benefit from the partnership, which he hopes will continue after The Diviners‘ run is over.
“Our overall goal,” he says, “is to have [Carver’s] students work with our kids and build some synergy.”
Griffin and Carver envision the Reid Center functioning as a “feeder center,” where teens would work under the tutelage of A-B Tech drama students and then apply to the college program after graduation. Both men speak of “socially significant” productions which would serve to shape the players and the audience while simultaneously dispelling the myth that theater belongs to the elite.
“When A-B Tech drama started, the mission was to involve the community,” Carver says. “We’re hoping we can reach them with this show.”
While The Diviners is not overtly concerned with themes of race and class, it’s bulleted with testaments to the importance of community strength. The play tells the story of Buddy Layman — played by Cameron Gregg, son of Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre Director Bill Gregg — whose near-drowning as a boy left him with a mortal fear of water. He refuses even to bathe when the angsty C.C. Showers — “which is a really cute name because of the boy being afraid of rain,” points out student actor Lorraine Roberts — arrives to unravel Buddy’s anxieties. The backdrop to his struggle is a town populated by distinctive and supportive characters.
“It sends a powerful message of love and commitment,” says Roberts, who won’t reveal her age but whose resume describes her as suitable for roles of women over 50.
Carver further widened the play’s inclusive scope by opting for colorblind casting. While it seems unlikely that citizens of 1930s Southern Indiana could ignore color, Carver has reimagined the tiny town of Zion as an oasis of racial harmony.
“I didn’t know why he did it,” Roberts says of Carver’s directorial decision. “I thought Peter was taking a chance. But … [it’s] worked out just fine.”
Carver says he hopes to continue casting a diversity of actors in his productions, mixing students of all ages and backgrounds with community members and local-theater mainstays. He’s looking forward to the department’s spring show, which is already on the Reid Center’s calendar.
Says Carver: “This could be the start of something really special — and big.”
[Contributing writer Hanna Miller lives in Asheville.]
Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, the W.C. Reid Center and A-B Tech Drama Club present The Diviners at the W.C. Reid Center (133 Livingston St.) Thursday, Dec. 1 through Sunday, Dec. 4, with performances Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $3/A-B Tech and Reid Center students; $5/area students; $10/adults. Call 254-1921, ext. 219, for more information.